The kidnapping of Seham Sergiwa, a member of Libya’s parliament last Wednesday, has raised the issue of the oppression of women in a country still facing a multidimensional crisis since 2011. Libya’s National Human Rights Commission called on the security services, the security directorate and the Benghazi prosecutor’s office to move quickly to reveal the fate of Seham Sergiwa and release her. The Committee held the kidnappers fully legally responsible for the safety and life of the deputy.
Since 2011, Libyan women have faced the worst forms of systematic exclusion and violence both in militia prisons and under the weight of forced displacement, terrorism and social oppression. The country has witnessed assassinations of a number of Libyan women. On July 17, 2014, MP Fariha Al-Barkawi was assassinated when her car was fired on in Derna while she was on her way to deliver aid to the needy.
Last Wednesday, the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace published a statement on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the incident: «Fariha Al-Barkawi was assassinated on July 17th by gunfire left in the city of Derna, eastern Libya, Barkawi was a member of the General National Congress of the city of Derna, and resigned on 3 February 2014 against the background of the crisis.”
Barkawi’s assassination came three weeks after the assassination of Salwa Bougheiis in Benghazi. On June 25, 2014, lawyer and political activist Salwa Bougheguis was assassinated after posting the names of three Libyan soldiers killed the same day in Benghazi on her Facebook page.
On May 29, 2014, local radio journalist Naseeb Karnafeh was killed in a cemetery on the outskirts of the city, where her body was found along with that of her driver with brutal torture, while Karnafeh was slaughtered with a sharp object, according to a forensic report. This is the most serious incident involving a journalist working in a tense work environment fraught with tribal conflicts in Sabha, in which female journalists and media professionals in particular are facing great challenges.
On June 19, coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Situations of Armed Conflict, Libya launched an initiative for the elimination of violence against women, specifically addressing the situation of victims of sexual violence during the war. Libyan ministers designated funds to be regulated by the Minister of Justice, which will in turn be the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs – if the structure is completed.
Violence against women in Libya is on the rise. Libyan women’s and human rights organizations expressed concern about the growing incidence of violence against women, expressing dissatisfaction with the “failure of the Libyan authorities to carry out their duties”, and called on the authorities to shoulder their responsibilities to protect women from all manifestations of violence.
Twenty-one women’s and human rights organizations from across Libya have called for legislation and resources to be allocated to implement this legislation on the ground, which will protect Libyan women from violence, and develop institutions to protect women and rehabilitate their workers. The organizations also called for the reinstatement of the hotline to help victims of violence report and assist their cases, to promote periodic data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls, as well as to protect migrant women and ensure that they receive appropriate assistance and protection from abuse and exploitation, and the fight against human trafficking.
They called for raising public awareness and social mobilization through information programmes and educational courses involving the ministries of culture, social affairs, endowments, health and information, and the qualification of law enforcement workers, and increasing the proportion of women working there to deal healthily with Issues of violence against women, particularly domestic violence.
Although the Libyan state has joined the most important international conventions that define the rules of international human rights law and despite its accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, it remains a formal accession without a concrete commitment, in the form of legislation, procedures and practical programmes on land, from the Libyan authorities.
Followers of the Libyan affairs fear that the recent disappearance of MP Seham Sergiwa, the social disintegration and widening of the circle of hard-line discourse, and the absence of the authority of the law in exchange for widespread impunity, will lead to more challenges for women awaiting the return of state sovereignty and the rule of law.